Letter from the Rancagua Prison, Chile

Elena Varela, filmmaker and director of the documentary Newen Mapuche sent a letter to cultural authorities and supporters of the film industry in Chile. Due to the events that have led to her arrest and to the fact that to this moment there is no public statement released by Elena, we find it adequate to circulate this letter to the national and international community: CARCEL DE RANCAGUA, MAY 14, 2008. To: Paulina Urrutia, Carolina Leiva, René Inostroza, Arturo Barrios, Leonardo Ordoñez (CORFO). Consejo de la Cultura -CNCA (National Audiovisual Arts Council) and CORFO (Audiovisual Fund). Dear Sirs, I'm writing from this cold and sinister jail, where there are no trees, flowers, poetry, music or songs. A place where concrete and barbed wire have taken over.
It's hard for me to begin to tell what is happening to me. Years ago, since I began to realize that there were beautiful things in nature and created by man, I fell in love with music, poetry and film. But there are not just these lovely things in life. There is also injustice, there are sad histories in our humanity. There's a sector in Chile that has suffered and been punished, there's truth in other worlds, there are memories that are forgotten. Over the last 10 years I fought for artistic education, to generate spaces of cultural engagement and expression. I founded the art school "Escuela de Todas Las Artes", the film collective "Cine Ojo Film", the children's orchestra "Orquesta Sinfónica de Niños de Panguipulli" and the media production company "Productora de Cine Ojo Film".
I created many works and educated many children, youth and adults. I was the Education Coordinator in charge of culture in the town of Pucón and took on many other cultural projects. In my work I've sought out the stories of social and political groups that have suffered violations of their human rights, or any other form of political, cultural or social process. My camera has seen all kinds of social actors and characters, some persecuted before, and some now. Because I am a documentarian, a filmmaker and artist. Having been awarded funds from the Consejo de la Cultura [Arts Council of Chile, CNCA] and the Fondo Nacional Audiovisual [National Audiovisual Fund], in democracy, I believed that this would allow me to show other worlds, and that I really had this support. But here I am, persecuted, accused and arrested of charges I did not commit. What I've really done is research memory, which is the reason behind the struggle of many social groups, and I've carried this out with the assistance of many other professionals of the film world through CORFO and CNCA funds.
I have researched the conflict of the Mapuche people with the lumber companies and the state for four years, and it's been difficult; on one hand, I've exposed and opened myself to their thoughts and beliefs, to be able to narrate from their viewpoints and reasoning, which I believe I've comprehended. And on the other hand, there is the immense repression that has been thrown upon their social actors. In the midst of this, I've collected historic material and I've made a narrative film script to produce the film in question: "NEWEN MAPUCHE". This project has had many steps in its development: first it was supported by CORFO in 2005.
Today the film's trailer is posted on the CORFO website. I have faith in my artistic capacity so I also applied for funding from the Fondo Audiovisual, and was backed by various accomplished professionals, documentary filmmakers and directors, so I know that garnering this support was achieved with great effort and perseverance, and love, of course. However, now all my footage- an accumulation of stories, testimonies and histories taped throughout these years- has been seized by the Investigations Police, and is at risk of loss, exposing the many people I interviewed who have told me their stories and expressed their viewpoints, testimonies, or stories in these reels. All written material from the character and historical research in progress, all shoots and scripts, have also been confiscated by the Investigations Police, who have put on a media circus, offending my work and all filmmakers who have worked or continue to collaborate with me, accusing me of being a terrorist, an assailant, an ex-MIR militant, in addition to multiple other charges that I am facing. Because of all this, I have serious doubts as to the way and use that will be made of my historical narratives, since they are already being used against me to entangle me in a story that they have been unable to resolve. My arrest has been sinister, just like those perpetrated by the CNI [secret police] in the dictatorship years; I've been interrogated, my family has been threatened, there has been a media montage demeaning my work as a documentary filmmaker. My work attests to my talent and strong determination towards what I do. In addition, my technical team was also arrested in the darkest of manners, our production company occupied and searched, suffering damage and loss of many items. I have been isolated, without the right to read or see news among many other rights suppressed.
Among the detainees, one of the women also happened to be a cultural worker, the Director of Culture of the town of Ercilla, whom I met in 2005 in an Arts Management Course offered by CNCA. In addition, my other film, "Los Sueños Del Comandante", a documentary made with support from CORFO in 2006, which tells the story of the lumber company Complejo Maderero Panguipulli, the peasants worker's movement, the Death Caravan and the revolutionary MIR guerilla of the eighties. All this work, all these taped interviews, have suffered the same fate; they have been seized by the Investigations Police of Chile. All my audiovisual material, tapes, interviews, artwork- such as banners, posters and other items- as well as written material such as scripts, diaries, books, archival interviews of ex-political militants, Mapuche and others, including political prisoners and leaders have been siezed by the Investigations Police of Chile.
Dear Sirs, I appeal for your intervention in the task of safeguarding this filmic material and the memory comprised in these works, the safeguarding of their social actors and my freedom, because I find myself deprived of all rights and expression. I also urge you to intervene for my rights as a filmmaker and artist, and to allow me to move forward with this film. I request the legal action Habeas corpus for those who participate in this project, including myself and my daughter América, who has also been threatened along with me on several occasions. Along with this, I request the safeguarding of the filmic material, the return of all the reels, tapes, images, film and sound equipment that were seized, the art materials that have been misused to diminish this beautiful project and my work as a documentary filmmaker, such as toy guns, costumes, flags, banners, Mapuche jewelery, megaphones, cellular phones, still cameras, photographs, writings, scripts, research notes, resume information, invoices, receipts for all our materials and expenses, which have all been seized and are involved in this project. In the name of artistic freedom and creative expression, I request my freedom. In the name of human dignity and everything achieved by artists striving for a more just society, I request my freedom and justice for what we have endured. Sincerely, Elena Varela López Documentary filmmaker. Company: Puelche Comunicaciones Contact Email: puelche.comunicaciones@yahoo.es